The Japan Times

Asia champion battles mom’s legacy

Son of four-time world champion wants to forge his own path

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When your mother is a former two-time world wrestling champion and you decide to follow her path, painfully high expectatio­ns are unavoidabl­e.

Such is the predicamen­t of Taishi Narikuni as he deals with the pressure to equal or better the success his mother Akiko achieved with four world championsh­ip medals, including back-to-back 65-kilogram golds in 1990 and 1991 and five national championsh­ips.

“I want to become a world champion, too,” Narikuni said.

In April, the 24-year-old came from behind to win the men’s 70-kg freestyle, a non-Olympic weight class, at the 2022 Asian Wrestling Championsh­ips in Ulaanbaata­r, beating world silver medalist and U23 champion Ernazar Akmataliev of Kyrgyzstan 4-3 in the final.

But Narikuni thinks he benefited from being an unknown, saying one continenta­l title does not amount to much.

“I’m not a big name and my opponents didn’t bother doing any research on me. I haven’t done anything worth talking about,” he said.

The naturally athletic Narikuni showed signs of future stardom as a junior wrestler, but in November 2017 — while a student at Aoyama Gakuin University — he was suspended for 20 months for a doping violation due to his carelessne­ss.

He tested positive on an anti-doping test after prescripti­on medicine contained a banned substance. The impact was devastatin­g, costing him a chance to qualify for last year’s Tokyo Olympics.

But Narikuni returned to the mat and now wants to forge a path to the ultimate success.

He began coaching at his mother’s wrestling club in Tokyo, which trains children in the sport. His younger sister Kotone and father Takahiro also play a role in the familyowne­d business.

Working in close proximity with a mother who is a former world champion, however, has forced him to come face to face with the burdens he carries.

Narikuni said it is easy to get trapped in comparison­s, explaining that he let high expectatio­ns from his students’ parents impact his confidence as a coach.

“It has been really hard being compared (to my mother),” he said.

“I experience­d feelings of inferiorit­y for the first time.”

Narikuni’s response has been to put those comparison­s to rest by exceling in his chosen sport.

His immediate goal is to snag a place at the world wrestling championsh­ips, to be held Sept. 10 to 18 in Belgrade. There, Narikuni is looking to collect some hardware of his own and make his family proud.

Narikuni is aware of the athletic blessings he received from his parents, but knows his genes can only take him so far.

“I have to raise my game. I’ll never be satisfied,” he said.

 ?? UNITED WORLD WRESTLING / VIA KYODO ?? Taishi Narikuni (right) wins the men’s 70-kg freestyle gold during April’s Asian championsh­ips in Ulaanbaata­r.
UNITED WORLD WRESTLING / VIA KYODO Taishi Narikuni (right) wins the men’s 70-kg freestyle gold during April’s Asian championsh­ips in Ulaanbaata­r.

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